Recruiting Rivals: NU and ND

Notre Dame and Northwestern are two exceedingly similar schools. Both in the Midwest, both private institutions, both elite academic institutions, both playing D1, power conference football, both schools start with the letter N. With the exception of that last fact, the similarities between these programs mean that these programs compete for the same kids coming out of high school. Fitz himself has told the story that Gary Barnett pitched him that he could play for Notre Dame or beat Notre Dame (although Fitzgerald has since said that he never had an official visit at Notre Dame).

In the last five recruiting classes, there have been a total of 51 recruits (according to rivals.com) who committed to either Notre Dame or Northwestern while being courted by the other school. This includes both players who received offers from both school, or players who merely received interest from both schools. Of those 51, 35 committed to Notre Dame, of whom the average rivals star rating was 3.5. Northwestern took 16 with an average star rating of 3.1.

Obviously star ratings have more than their share of flaws. Everett Golson was a 3 star recruit who has gone on to have a massive career while high school class of 2012 5-star Notre Dame recruit Gunner Kiel (also recruited by Northwestern) is now putting up mediocre stats in Cincinatti. It’s immensely doubtful that football coaches pour over class recruiting rankings before deciding their recruiting hit list. But what these rankings do give us is a rough approximation of how coaches across the country evaluated certain talent.

Northwestern has notched some important recruiting “wins,” as it were, in the last 5 years. Parrker Westphal in the 2014 recruiting class, Matt Alviti the year before, and Ifeadi Odenigbo the year before that, were all 4-star recruits with offers from both schools. However, you could make an entire team out of 4 or 5-star recruits who shrugged off Northwestern to take their talents to South Bend. The class of 2015 saw 3 4-star recruits chose the Irish over the Wildcats. 2014 saw 4 4-stars and a 5-star (offensive tackle Quenton Nelson) go to Notre Dame. In 2013, Notre Dame won 8 of the 11 recruiting battles. Northwestern has made headway into the domination of Midwest elite athletes who are also elite students that Notre Dame enjoys recently, but it’s been tough sledding.

Clearly, Northwestern is at a disadvantage when it comes to challenging programs like Notre Dame. In just about every recruiting category that I’ve learned from playing EA Sports’ NCAA Football, Notre Dame has the edge.

ncaa football recruiting (thanks ea sports)

(I’ll leave the Alabama academic prestige joke to the comment section). Pro potential? Notre Dame wins. Tradition? Notre Dame by a landslide? TV exposure? Irish again. Facilities? Championship contender? Stadium? Irish, Irish, and Irish. Even Northwestern’s academic pitch can be matched by Notre Dame. What NU has to work with is, basically, playing time, an opportunity to build something, and coaches. Chris Collins and Pat Fitzgerald have both gotten recruits to buy in to the idea of building a program and also have connected with recruits on personal levels. Collins can still work the “program on the rise” idea for a couple of more years before it starts to wear thin. As a lot of you have commented and as we’ve written here, Fitzgerald may have more trouble with that pitch given the last two years.

This is why the NU/ND game might mean more than just one win or one loss. If Pat Fitzgerald can find a way to knock off one of his chief recruiting rivals, he immediately has a new pitch. When you beat the guy you’re recruiting against, it gives you an awfully clear edge. Meanwhile, if Northwestern goes into South Bend and loses gets blown out (the line right now is ND by around 17), challenging Notre Dame gets a lot harder. Not only do you not have any concrete edges from an institutional standpoint, now you’ve gotten smashed in a head-to-head. If you’re 17 or 18 years old, it might be that much harder to turn down one of the most historic teams in sports in the Fighting Irish.

This Saturday’s game represents a huge opportunity for Northwestern. It’s against a ranked team. It’s a game where all the pressure is on the opposition. It’s on national TV. 6-6 is still (yes, still) a possibility. And if NU can steal a win, it might well give them an edge come summer recruiting season.

  • nucats96

    As a 3 star redshirt freshman Goldson (with a very strong supporting cast) led his team to the national championship game. As a 4 star redshirt freshman, Alviti has run the option a couple of times in one game.
    As a 4 star stud freshman, Garrett Dickerson has been used as a blocker and on punt coverage.
    As a 4 star freshman who enrolled in January, Westphal still redshirted.
    Yes I know Justin Jackson and Xavier Washington are true freshman, but I worry that big time recruits similar to the ones I mentioned above are going to see that we don’t play and/or develop many of top tier recruits and say to themselves, why go to NU when I can go to a school that will utilize and help me grow my talents in addition to helping me build a future off the field.

    • royko

      I can’t imagine that we’ll lose many recruits because we redshirt — everybody does it except in special circumstances.

      As for Alviti, it’s way too early to write off his development. From the development angle, I don’t think it’s that bad that he’s not starting as a RS freshman. I am annoyed that they put him in a game without a better plan for how to use him, but then I’m annoyed lately that our coaches don’t have a better plan for pretty much everything.

      I think right now the bigger challenge for our recruiting is how players perceive our chances to win, not how they perceive our ability to develop. They’re obviously related, but I think we’re more likely to get turned down because we’re just not very good right now, not because Westphal and Alviti aren’t contributing yet.

    • Richard

      How many true freshmen are contributing at ND?

  • cece

    You cannot depend on winning. Irv Rein told us that. We know that in so many ways NU is superior to ND. But ND has a distinct identity, which assists them not only with recruiting, but in filling the stands. NU needs to work on defining and portraying an identity, other than athletics acting like it is a training ground for people to become a member of a country club. That is not who the grads are…think important business leaders and entertainment gurus like Stephen Colbert….who do NOT act like the crowd that runs things for athletics. Portray excellence and be inclusive.

    • Sir Mark

      So you are saying Notre Dame doesn’t have important business leaders? Geez, who is paying for all those new buildings they’ve got? Oh, yeah, one was paid for by Regis Philbin, speaking of entertainment leaders. And just what do you mean by inclusive? Is that a veiled reference to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity?

      • ND ’94

        Sensitive much? From her fifth sentence on, cece clearly is speaking is speaking *only* about Northwestern. And your citing Regis Philbin makes me cringe; his success is a testament to the American public’s lack of taste.